PLAINVIEW, N.Y.--Students racing to get to class? That was the scenario when Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District in New York introduced zSpace, a virtual reality technology that allows users to create, test and experiment in an interactive, 3D world.
For the 2014-15 school year, students learned science concepts using the zSpace STEM Lab, which consists of a set of student virtual reality stations and a teacher station, each outfitted with an interactive stylus as well as a wide variety of educational software ranging from science and physics to engineering.
Now, at the tail end of their first year using the technology, teachers and administrators recognize that the initial excitement has led to more in-depth and engaged learning in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects than they have seen in the past.
“What I love about zSpace is the collaborative approach,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Jill Gierasch, said. “Two students, one with the stylus and one with the glasses can work on a lesson together to problem solve. Those inquiry skills are second to none with a device like this.”
The system works by tracking head movements to provide the students with a realistic learning environment and a personalized learning experience that aligns to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Virtual-holographic images can be “lifted” from the screen and manipulated with the stylus. Some applications provide multi-sensory feedback; for example, students working with a virtual heart can see it pumping as well as feel it beating.
Combining virtual and real-world science
Virtual experiments also led to much more advanced learning than would ever be possible in a typical classroom. Sixth-grade students used zSpace software called “Franklin’s Lab” to experiment with electricity boards. They then transferred those skills to the real world as they designed their own electricity boards in the school’s tech shop. Finally, students returned to zSpace to advance their design further, using techniques and materials that would be cost-prohibitive and even dangerous if used in real life.
Jordan Pekor, an Advanced Placement physics teacher, was able to conduct experiments with his high school students that he would have never had time for in the past.
“You can get a lot more done in your 42-minute period. Setting up some of these labs would be impossible in those kinds of time frames. Instead, you set it up in zSpace, the students walk in, and it’s all ready to go.”
The time and money saved on advanced experiments, plus the heightened student engagement and inquiry, have transformed learning for students at Plainview. As one student explained, “You can see what works and doesn’t work. Everyone’s learning. Together.”